| PHNOM PENH
PHNOM PENH Jan 4 Cambodian security guards and
city workers, watched over by riot police, dismantled a camp
occupied by anti-government demonstrators on Saturday, a day
after a bloody crackdown on garment factory workers allied with
the protest movement.
Friday's clashes, during which police shot dead four people,
have stoked a political crisis in which striking workers and
supporters of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party
(CNRP) are challenging a government they say cheated its way to
power and is depriving them of a fair wage.
Despite the crackdown, CNRP leader Sam Rainsy vowed that a
mass march and rally planned for Sunday would go ahead. Rainsy
also condemned the violence and demanded a thorough
Hundreds of CNRP supporters have been camped since Dec. 15
in tents around a stage in Freedom Park, the only place in Phnom
Penh where protests are allowed.
Unions representing garment workers want better pay and
support CNRP's demands for a re-run of an election in July it
says was rigged to allow long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen to
remain in power.
Friday's clashes took place at Canadia Industrial Park, also
in Phnom Penh, which is home to dozens of factories that make
clothing for Western brands such as Adidas, Puma
and H&M Hennes & Mauritz.
On Saturday, many CNRP supporters grabbed their belongings
and fled, some clutching babies, when they saw riot police
approaching Freedom Park, Reuters witnesses said.
Riot police however held back from the main site while
security guards and city workers in plain clothes, some carrying
axes and steel pipes, moved in to dismantle the stage and tents.
Three helicopters flew low overhead, while riot police carrying
batons kept journalists away from the site.
CNRP issued a statement accusing "forces in civilian
clothing" of beating demonstrators and urged its supporters not
Phnom Penh municipality spokesman Long Dimanche said CNRP
leaders had been sent a letter telling them protests would no
longer be tolerated.
"Their protests have been peaceful at the park but their
supporters have marched out of the park, destroying private and
public property, closing down roads and causing social
instability," he said.
Rainsy called for both sides to exercise restraint.
"We deplore and condemn the violence that the armed forces
under the instruction of the current government has used against
workers," Rainsy, a former finance minister, told a media
briefing before the protest camp was cleared.
"So we have made an appeal to both sides, workers and armed
forces to withdraw to stop using any form of violence so we can
find a peaceful solution," Rainsy said.
Amnesty International joined Rainsy and Cambodian rights
group LICADHO in demanding an investigation into the violence.
"The Cambodian government has to rein in its security
forces," said Amnesty's Cambodia researcher Rupert Abbott.
Friday's violence followed a crackdown a day earlier outside
a Yakjin (Cambodia) Inc factory in another part Phnom Penh, when
armed troops hit protesters with batons, wounding 20 people.
Yakjin makes clothing for Gap and Walmart.
The CNRP has won the support of some 350,000 garment workers
from nearly 500 factories across Cambodia by promising to nearly
double the monthly minimum wage to $160 if it wins a re-run of
the July election, which Hun Sen is refusing to hold.
The government is refusing to raise the wage beyond $100
dollars a month and has ordered factories to reopen to prevent
damage and job losses in an industry worth $5 billion a year.
Garment manufacturing is Cambodia's biggest foreign currency
earner and a major employer. Many Western brands outsource
footwear and apparel to Cambodian factories, in part because
labour is cheaper than China.